Szasz, Thomas (1920 – )
Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960).
Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry provides an example of scientism.
For Szasz, the term mental illness is a socially constructed myth rather than an actual fact. He believes that the concept of mental illness is generated within, not above, other historically positioned truth claims.
Written before Henri Ellenberger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) and Michel Foucault‘s poststructural analysis, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s work is often on the reading list for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.
Critics of Szasz’s perspective point out that psychiatry like any other science is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s actual condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the political climate of the country in which assessments are made, it may be used for good or ill.
Szasz continues to be prolific, however. His latest publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but seem to represent the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).
Most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation which some say resembles an orthodox Church marginalizing heresies.
The polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is a sad state of affairs because it probably makes otherwise intelligent figures like Szasz more uncompromising and extreme, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.
When someone is convinced they’re right and the other is entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears.
» DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious
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